Recently, I didn’t watch ‘The Last Waltz’, a documentary about The Band’s last ever concert at the end of the 1970s. Here is my review:
After two hard decades on the road, Bob Dylan’s old backing band, ‘The Band’, decided to call it a day. After all, one can only spend so long on a single municipal thoroughfare. In order to mark the occasion, the pin-sized director Martin Scorcese agreed to film it. Previously, Scorcese had cut his chops making entertaining fictional films, including ‘Taxi, ‘Taxi 2’ and ‘The King of Comedy and I’. But in ‘The Last Waltz’ he threw away all of the childish flim-flam of fiction and dedicated himself to recording the hard, gritty reality of five hairy men singing songs about obese women called ‘Fanny’.
The concert begins with Ronnie ‘the Hawk’ Hawkins. Ronnie resembles a hawk in much the same way that that Martin Sheen resembles a housemartin, i.e. not at all. Even so, he has dressed for the occasion, and swoops onto the stage via a zip-line, sporting a huge prosthetic beak and devouring live sparrows by the bucketload. The only way that the Band can get him to stay still and sing is by means of a vision-obscuring hood. While crooning he perches on the wrist of the drummer, Levon Helm.
Confusingly, Helm has the smile of a nice old grampaw and the eyes of Charlie Manson.
Next up is Van Morrison, the Gospel-Pig: O he of swinish pus and souly, squealy yelp. His tight teddy-bear bod is wrapped in purple velvet pyjamas. While the boys excrete a wet dollop of funk, Van wiggles his curly tail at them. “Squee” he says, “squee”. Methinks this little piggy has had quite enough white nose-swill for one evening.
After Van has bounced off the stage like a noisy ball of bacon, his place is filled by the maiden aunt of folk-rock, Boney Joni Mitchell. Her bearded nephews strike up a shuffle and each vies to supersede the others in her affections. “Look at me, Aunt Joni” says Richard Manuel, “I can play real neat. Now can I have some Victoria Sponge”. “Nay, Aunty” shouts Rick Danko, “don’t give that beastly Richard any sponge, for he is a naughty boy. Give it to me, for I have said my prayers and combed my beard. I am a good boy.’
Then cometh Eric Clapton, the dapper CEO of blues. Clapton does a little powerpoint presentation about why he’s such a good guitarist. Before exiting, he gives all of his employees a bonus and then takes a vacation in the South Sea Islands.
Throughout the concert Robbie Robertson, the guitarist of The Band, struggles manfully to contain his rapidly-multiplying teeth within his mouth. Meanwhile, Garth Hudson, a brainy bear with a tiny face, copulates with his moog.
Among the other guests is Neil Diamond, whose name evokes an angry emperor ordering a precious stone to prostrate itself before his majestic splendidness. Diamond’s music evokes stomach cramps and sadness.
Finally, just as the concert is coming to a close, a strange little man runs onstage and commandeers the microphone. He bellows atonally and snickers, as if parodying the other guests. Strangely, no-one tries to remove him from the stage. Instead, everyone comes back on stage and sings along, embarrassedly. The evening is ruined. The Band sigh, shave their beards and exit the stage. Scorcese’s camera zooms in on a clump of hair as it falls from Manuel’s cheek.
Is it not true, my friends, that the careers of rock stars end not with a bang, but with a whisker.